Welcome to another installment of Ask A Music Critic! And thanks to everyone who has sent me questions. Please keep them coming at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year you wrote an article asking whether Foo Fighters would (or could) continue without Taylor Hawkins. Now the band has confirmed that they will carry on and apparently tour in 2023. What do you think about this decision, and who should replace him? — Jerry from Minneapolis
As I wrote in the aftermath of Taylor Hawkins’ death last April, I don’t think there is a “right” choice in terms of a band carrying on after a tragedy of this magnitude. If moving forward feels right in the Foos camp — or even just in Dave Grohl’s mind — then it’s the right choice. If a fan can’t conceive of Foo Fighters without Taylor Hawkins, they have every right to check out at this point. But if it’s your band, it’s your decision, not the public’s. To me, it’s that simple.
I will say that I’m not surprised. The logistics at play aren’t hard to figure out. Foo Fighters are the rare contemporary rock band that can play stadiums. Grohl is the most famous rock star of his generation. His band conceivably has another 20 years of albums and tours ahead of it. And that might be a conservative estimate — Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are in their 80s, and they hardly missed a beat with the Rolling Stones’ most recent tour after losing their iconic drummer, Charlie Watts. By that metric, Foo Fighters are still squarely in their prime. In stadium-rock years, they’re still young pups!
When they staged the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts this summer, it felt like a necessary public gesture providing the closure they needed to get here. I hope that doesn’t come across as cold or cynical — what made those shows (particularly the one in London) so memorable is that they were a sincere and appropriate recognition of Hawkins’ place in the band as well as a reflection of his infectious personality. For all of the obvious emotion on display, the overall mood was celebratory. What might have been a maudlin affair instead was an uplifting and even fun homage to Hawkins’ record collection, a virtual “Classic Rock: The Concert”-style party. The capper of course was Shane Hawkins’ instant-classic performance on “My Hero,” a legendary arena-rock event for the ages, a “passing-the-torch” moment so perfect that it felt scripted and yet somehow it wasn’t.
So: What now? Fans have been speculating this week on Hawkins’ replacement, and unsurprisingly the chatter has centered on session-drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese, who played at the tribute concert. The problem with Freese is that he has played in seemingly every aging legacy rock band, from Devo (his current gig) to Guns N’ Roses to The Replacements to Nine Inch Nails to Paramore. Would the ultimate free-agent timekeeper ever commit to one band? Based on his history, I find it hard to believe.
In my column from last year, I suggested a rotating cast of famous friends guesting behind the kit — including ringers like Chad Smith, Stephen Perkins, and Stewart Copeland — but that’s not really a tenable long-term solution. And then there’s the biggest dark horse of them all, the band’s original drummer, the jilted William Goldsmith. Now there’s a fun thought experiment! Justice for Goldsmith 26 years after The Colour And The Shape! Alas, there’s zero chance of it happening, as all parties have moved on.
The most logical choice is probably Rufus Taylor of The Darkness and Queen + Adam Lambert. Taylor also performed at the tribute concerts, and he seems like a natural hire given his preexisting relationship with Hawkins and the rest of the band. There’s no question in my mind that fans would accept him. If Hawkins himself had a vote, I suspect that he would find being replaced by Roger Taylor’s son extremely cool. For those reasons, if I had to bet, I would put my money on Rufus.
But he’s not my ultimate choice. Let’s say Dave Grohl called me up and said, “Hey Steve, who should I hire to be my new drummer?” Here is what I would say: “Dave, I think you should pick the best drummer available. A person who has elevated every album he has ever played on. A guy who can pack an arena full of people who only want to see him pound the hell out of a snare. A dude who kept time on some of the most beloved rock songs of the last 30 years. One of the very greatest drummers of all time. Dave, you should hire … yourself!”
Will that happen? I doubt it. But speaking as someone who doesn’t have a vote: Dave Grohl is always the guy I want playing drums in any band. Why not the Foos? Would anyone really rather him play guitar? Especially in a band that already has two other guitar players?
I was saddened this week by the death of Jeremiah Green of Modest Mouse from cancer at the age of 45. I enjoyed the oral history you recently put together of The Lonesome Crowded West. On Twitter you called him one of the all-time great indie-rock drummers. What made Green an all-time great? — Lorraine from Chicago
I regret not talking to Jeremiah Green for that oral history. Aside from Calvin Johnson, he was the only pivotal figure from the making of that record I wasn’t able to interview. It wasn’t for lack of trying — I was actually scheduled to speak with him a few times, but he kept backing out via Modest Mouse’s publicist. I was told he was sick, though not given any further details. I assumed it was the flu or possibly Covid, but obviously it was far more serious.
It’s sad when any person dies, but Green was only six months older than I am. And in my mind, when I listen to those classic Modest Mouse records from the ’90s, he’s still the gangly teenager who plays with an aggressively vicious swing. Either way, Jeremiah Green was a young man. He should have had many years and a lot more music ahead of him. I feel terrible for his friends and family. My thoughts are with them at this time.
Modest Mouse typically is framed as a vehicle for Isaac Brock’s songwriting. But when I revisited The Lonesome Crowded West for my oral history, what most blew me away was the chemistry between Brock and the rhythm section composed of Green and bassist Eric Judy. Their smoking interplay places the record outside the modern continuum of indie rock. For all of their limitations as individual players, those guys complemented each other perfectly as a unit. And you just don’t hear that as much now, when it’s common for a singer-songwriter to come to prominence with home-recorded music and then hire a band when it’s time to tour. The original Modest Mouse in contrast had an arc more akin to a classic-rock act, in that they played together for countless hours before anyone heard or cared about their music. It’s that very honed-to-excellence instrumental prowess that makes an album like The Lonesome Crowded West sound as timeless as it does.
Brock himself put it best in my column: “Jeremy and Eric didn’t fucking need me. They could lock in and do things pretty great whether I was there or not. And that’s helpful because then when I was involved — and obviously I was fucking involved — I could get pretty squirrely with what I did because those guys were so locked in. I didn’t even have to be in tune some of the time. As long as it sounded like they were doing the right thing, if I steered way out of the lane, it was going to be fine.”
As for what specifically made Green such a great drummer, he had that quality that all brilliant musicians have: His feel is instantly recognizable. Play a short snippet of one of his grooves and you know right away that it’s him. The drum pattern from “Truckers Atlas” is as distinctively Jeremiah Green as the opening lick from “When The Levee Breaks” is distinctively John Bonham. Couple that with the degree of difficulty that comes with playing in Modest Mouse — Green’s job was to create rhythms that could simultaneously convey the mania of Brock’s lyrics and melodies while also supplying a coherent foundation that made people want to dance. As Brock suggested, Green and Judy often supplied the most musical and even catchiest parts of Modest Mouse songs. They weren’t merely accompanying their lead singer and guitarist; they actually made sense of the music for the audience.
Foo Fighters are moving forward without their drummer. Can Modest Mouse? That’s a question I can’t even begin to ponder right now.